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The Rise: Vol. 6

With Keenan Evans battling a toe injury, the Red Raiders end conference play poorly

NCAA Basketball: Texas Tech at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

In our last volume, the Red Raiders faced their worst fear as star Keenan Evans went down with an injury against Baylor. He missed the entire second half and the seven game win streak was snapped. It was unclear just how severe of an injury Evans was dealing with at the team, and he’d fight through it, lacing up for the next game. #6 Texas Tech headed into snowy Stillwater, Oklahoma to face a struggling Oklahoma State team.

Even with Evans only scoring one basket in the first half, the Red Raiders still went toe-to-toe with the Cowboys in the first half. Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver helped keep it within one at the break. But as soon as the second half started, it looked like a completely different game. The Cowboys went on a 9-2 run to start the second half, freezing the Red Raiders. The run didn’t stop there though, as Oklahoma State begin to light it up from behind the three-point line. What once was a one point lead for Texas Tech at the half quickly became a 16 point deficit. Smith and Culver did all they good to pull the Red Raiders back into the game, and they even brought it back to within four with two minutes left. But with Evans clearly hurting, scoring only one basket in seven tries and playing just 25 minutes, the Red Raiders just didn’t have it in them. Despite a combined 33 points from the two freshmen and 14 from Neim Stevenson off the bench, Texas Tech gets upset 79-71.

NCAA Basketball: Texas Tech at Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State Cowboys guard Jeffrey Carroll (30) three point basket defended by Texas Tech Red Raiders guard Zhaire Smith (2)
Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately for the Red Raiders, things wouldn’t be getting easier anytime soon. Now with just three more regular season games remaining, two of them would be against top 25 teams. The first would be against the Kansas Jayhawks, who came into United Supermarkets Arena with the loss earlier in the season still on their minds. The Red Raiders who need to replicate the depth that overcame the talented the Devonte Graham earlier that season in Phog Allen. Texas Tech would have some extra motivation with ESPN’s College Gameday coming to Lubbock for the first time ever.

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas started the game on an 8-0 run that helped quiet down the crowd. But as the half went, Zhaire Smith continued to attack the basket. Smith had 10 points at the break that helped the Red Raiders go into halftime only down by four. As the second half started, Norense Odiase started to attack inside, scoring a quick four points. A layup by a beaten and bruises Keenan Evans brought it to within one. Kansas answered with an aggressive showing from Devonte Graham that stretched their lead to eight, but Texas Tech wouldn’t stay down. There was a street fight happening in Lubbock, and as Zhaire Smith threw down a dunk to tie the game with less than three minutes left, it was clear they wouldn’t be giving up. Graham made a big bucket that pushed it to two with a minute left. With the ball in their hands, Texas Tech had a chance to tie or lead. But they turned the ball over, giving Graham yet another jumper to put them ahead by four with 30 seconds left. With one more chance to get closer, they turned the ball over again, handing Kansas the 74-72 win and the Big 12 Championship.

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Texas Tech
Kansas Jayhawks guard Lagerald Vick (2) works the ball against Texas Tech Red Raiders guard Davide Moratti (25)
Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Keenan Evans was clearly not himself. He had scored just eight combined points in the Red Raiders past two games. Opting to be conservative before the conference and eventually NCAA tournament, Evans would sit out the next game against #20 West Virginia. The Red Raiders would also be without Zach Smith and Justin Gray due to injury. Shorthanded and on the road, this one didn’t look like it was going to end, and it sure did start off poorly. Texas Tech missed 10 of their first 11 shots to start the game off, allowing the Mountaineers to jump out to a 21-3 lead. Niem Stevenson did everything he could to pull his team back in the game, scoring 10 points in the half. The Red Raiders trailed by 13 going into halftime, only scoring 29 points. After the break, Texas Tech looked to have a chip on their shoulders and knocked down a couple of quick threes. This brought the Red Raiders back within seven, but West Virginia quickly rallied back. The Mountaineers front court took advantage of a Texas Team missing it’s three best defenders. Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr. combined for 39 points on their senior night. Despite an incredible 24 point showing from Niem Stevenson, the Red Raiders had lost 84-74, their fourth straight loss.

NCAA Basketball: Texas Tech at West Virginia
West Virginia Mountaineers guard Daxter Miles Jr. (4) drives down the lane during the second half against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at WVU Coliseum
Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Now heading into their last regular season game of the year, Texas Tech returned home to face a reeling TCU team. The Red Raiders made short change of the Horned Frogs earlier in the season, but an ever-improving Desmond Bane led his team to a four game win streak heading into this one. Keenan Evans was expected to return in this one, although the health of his toe was still a question mark. In the first half, it looked like Evans was in for yet another empty game. He took two shots in the first five minutes, missed them both, and didn’t take another shot the rest of the half. Bane scored 10 in the half, propelling TCU to a five point lead at the break. But as the second half started, Evans made a layup that lit a fire inside of him. He would go one to make all 23 of his points in the second half. Another 15 from Zhaire Smith off the bench helped the Red Raiders build a lead. Despite an 11 point rally from Bane in the second half, Texas Tech pulled away with a 79-75 win.

NCAA Basketball: Texas Christian at Texas Tech
TCU Horned Frogs guard Desmond Bane (1) looks for an opening against the Texas Tech Red Raiders
Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

With the regular season completed, Texas Tech now had their eyes set on the conference tournament. Could they right their loss of the regular season championship? Is Keenan Evans fully healthy? What will this team do in the NCAA Tournament? Find out next week.